Public Perception and “Death Before Disability” – Day in Washington Policy Podcast #38

Things are still busy, but I’m hoping to prioritize Day in Washington and make sure to keep everyone up to date on events here in Washington DC. Today’s podcast/blog post is from a guest host on an issue we’ve covered in the past – looking at the public perception of “Death before Disability.” This episode is posted today as it is the anniversary of Dianne Odell’s death one year ago.

Day in Washington Disability Policy Podcast – Episode Summary: Day in Washington looks at disability policy issues both here in the United States and also abroad. This week's episode is a guest podcast from part-time writer, full-time book junkie N.R. Brown. Little girl in an iron lung She discusses her response to recent comments on her local radio about Dianne Odell’s death. She found the statements made by the radio host and the public perception of Dianne’s life as being without value, offensive and she reminds us how prevalent is the belief that death is preferable to living with a disability.

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1 comment for “Public Perception and “Death Before Disability” – Day in Washington Policy Podcast #38

  1. May 29, 2009 at 2:12 am


    Hello and welcome to Day in Washington. I’m your host, Day Al-Mohamed working to make sure you stay informed. This week, we have a guest host, N.R. Brown, part-time writer, full-time book junkie. She is completing her second novel this year and you can follow her progress and writerly insights on her website at She claims that because she doesn’t get along with the recording studio, that it is necessary that I read her commentary.

    EPISODE #38

    From N.R. Brown:

    I listen to a local morning show, Elliot in the Morning on my way to work and on Wednesday morning they started discussing something I feel I need to address.

    In the wee hours of morning a power outage caused Dianne Odell's iron lung to stop working. Her relatives tried to start an emergency generator but it would not start. She had been diagnosed with polio at age 3 and had been confined to this iron lung for nearly 60 years.

    Discussing this woman and her situation, Elliot looked up an image of an iron lung and began asking members of his show if they had to choose between an iron lung and death what would they choose?

    Disability or death.

    He was the first to say die.

    What bothered me so much about this discussion was the casual way they approached it. As if the only choice in the world was to be trapped by a disability or die. If you read about Dianne you'll soon find out there is a third live and flourish in spite of your disability! She graduated high school and took college classes and even wrote a book from her iron lung. She had birthday parties and participated in family holidays. She laughed and cried and lived. She did not choose death or incapacitation because there were other options open to her. BUT society does not see these choices, for them it is black or white.

    What's more, the voices of our society reinforce this! And when they reinforce it, what happens?

    Paramedics decide a disabled man isn't worth trying to save.

    A 23 year old commits suicide rather than live a second class life.

    52% of Americans would choose death over disability

    From these few articles it is painfully apparent that society believes disability is not survivable, and if against all odds you do survive and live your life like others would become inspirational. How condescending of you to notice. I'm not inspirational, I'm living my life and for the most part I don't know I'm disabled just like you don't know you are ugly. I don't spend every waking moment thinking about my disability, instead I think about work and dinner and sex and getting my car legal and shopping (not necessarily in that order). JUST.LIKE.EVERYONE.ELSE.

    Just because I'm disabled does not mean my life is over, it means I've got to make means those around me might have to make them as does not mean life is not worth living.

    Now, before we get all caught up in control of destiny and end of life solutions let me point out that I believe that people should leave their hands off my body in a number of ways. One of those ways is how I choose (or not) to die.

    Still, it is a slippery slope. Without education and support, newly disabled persons will see only the same old choice: perpetual inconsequence or death. And until we change the voices of our society those people choosing death are going to be making an uniformed decision.

    I for one cannot live with that. I think it's time to stand up and start telling the voices of our nation, telling the people who may not talk FOR us but talk TO us that this is unacceptable.

    I'll be writing a letter to Elliot today, encouraging some education before he makes another disability or death decision. Here's hoping I can change one voice out there to give us all a fighting chance.

    N.R. Brown is absolutely right. Just to write down the introduction this episode I ran a search on Diane Odell and found this response from one blogger:

    60 Years in an Iron Lung. Holy F***. Who cares?
    She was confined to an iron lung from the age of 3. 60 years later, she dies because the power went out. All hilarity aside, I'd like to point out that the real tragedy is that she wasn't euthanized when all hope of recovery was lost. She was basically imprisoned in her own skin for 3 score, so this event is a blessing

    N.R. Brown made a decision to speak out and challenges us to do the same. So let me finish with a question…what would you say back to Elliot and his listeners?


    And that's it for this week's edition of Day In Washington. I’d like to thank N.R. Brown for being willing to offer her personal take on this issue. For more information about disability policy issues please check the website often: If you have comments or questions or are interested in being a guest on this program please contact me via email or call 206-888-6009. Thank you for listening.

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